My (Partial) Gratitude List

GloryThe Divine One’s Love
The Divine One’s mercy
Love
The love in my heart 
My kids
Olivia
The memory of Bill
Memories in general
The roof over my head
Constant affirmation of my sensibility: it really is The One
Absurdist humor
Humor in general
Music, always and forever
The music of my roots
The big one: hot water on demand
London
Things that grow in the ground
I saw Barack Obama elected president
My health
My health insurance 
My safety
Each new day
I don’t go hungry
Good food, of course
The ability to say, “I don’t know”
My kids grew up safely
The sky
The ocean
Songbirds
Nature in general
My sibs
My friends
My cousins
Freedom from want
The human body heals itself 
The fact that thoughts are private
The human voice
The ability to read
The ability to write
I don’t have fertility issues anymore
I’m not poor
I don’t live in military state
Newport
The Internet happened during my lifetime
This breathe
Springtime
Summertime
Seasons in general
Who am I kidding, I’m so grateful for TV
 I can afford not to steal
My broken ankle didn’t cost me the ability to walk
The window at work
That I write! (How did this get so far down on the list?)
Really good smells 
Babie’s faces
Olivia’s face

  So, that’s my list. What’s yours?

Summering in Gratitude

The Love of Livie

I’M a very happy person right now. Circumstances have coalesced so as to give me the opportunity to be away from my “regular” life this summer. I’m spending the time basking in love and light. The love comes in the person of my beautiful one year old granddaughter who I’m looking after. (Don’t go making  judgements about my age. You don’t know what the deal might be. LOL.)  The light comes from the place. I’m living south of my permanent home. I love the weather here. I’ve written in the past about how much I dislike the cold and dark and being here seriously makes me question why I live where I do.

Because there will be a lull in my usual responsibilities, the plan is for me to do a lot of writing. I’ve already started and the topics are popping into my head at breakneck speed. Some of them I’ll be sharing in this blog. My location leads me to want to write about the Civil War and race history in this country. And I think I’m going to try to tackle feelings about growing older (yeah, it’s the grandmother thing. I said, don’t judge!) I always write about spirituality and religion so I’ll continue to do that. Last but not least, I’m definitely going to write about gratitude. I’m so grateful to be in this position this summer. I’m aware that it’s enviable and a blessing. At this point I feel as though the bridge that the waters of my life have flowed under may be gone but I sit in a boat of gratitude floating onward.

Are there any summertime topics you think I should write about? Please let me know by posting a comment. Help me make this time well spent!

If you celebrate a Spring holiday, I wish for you happiness and peace. Happy Easter to all who celebrate it. This is a repost of my favorite prayer.

Stop Along The Way

I love you the divine One
With all my mind, heart and soul.
I pray I will see You in the faces
Of all those I meet.
I pray I will reflect Your love
To all those I meet.
I pray I will remember as I am leaning to the left
You are on my right.
I admit my sin as a turning away from You to pursue
myself
Let me be myself in You.
I pray I will always appreciate Your wonder
With awe and not superstition.
I love you, hear my cry.

Bayete, bayete, bayete
How Great Thou Art
All praise to your name.

I want to come to You headless
Voiceless so I can hear You
Thoughtless so I will not define
Myself, beside myself
And outside myself
But instead one in You
I want to come to You headless
Heart open so I can feel You

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Bowing At Easter

ChurchAnnually, I use the Christian time of Lent as the impetus for extended contemplation. I have mentioned before that I consider the ability to be compassionate and loving a vital part of my spiritual growth. This year I’ve been thinking about why although I seem poised in social settings and can write compositions for others to read, actual interaction with other people can be downright painful for me. I consider myself fortunate to have the concepts of different faith traditions to access for help in making sense of my definition of spirituality. If you’ve been reading this blog you know that frequently I refer back to a Buddhist article I wrote about in my very first blog entry; “Long Journey To a Bow” by Christina Feldman. (“The Bow” 12/25/10)  It’s a piece that serves as one of the guides to my personal “wandering through the wilderness”. In it the author discusses the conceit (in this context meaning the metaphor or organizing theme) of self.  She shows that for most of us (and definitely for me) the conceit of self is a stumbling block that is made of “better than, worse than, and equal to”.

I got to the point where I recognized that I had developed a serious sense of  “I’m better than, they’re worse than”. That was easy because that comparison is so prevalent in our culture and I was raised on it.  As I have mentioned before, the only way I could understand others was to evaluate their “flaws”. ( “This Month’s Stop”1/17/12 post) And I evaluated myself by things like how incredibly clean my house was and how impeccably dressed I was. I left several good jobs because “they didn’t appreciate how good I was or they were too incompetent”. When I realized the detriment of that kind of thinking I thought I was working the conceit of “better than”. Then I was prompted to dig deeper by the article. I found that the reason I judged others was because actually, I felt I was diminished and deficient. In reality I was working the conceit of “worse than”.

I spent the first half of my life putting together and putting on what I came to call “the suit”.  That was the persona of competence I thought I needed to present to others to hide my true inadequacies. Although I really didn’t wear it long, I wore it hard. It got to the point where it was my second skin, or maybe even THE skin. But it became so uncomfortable that I drank alcohol to deaden myself to the pain of the weight of it. It took therapy to teach me that I could remove it and to accept and appreciate what I was like without it. And yet I still kept it around. I was afraid I’d experience a different kind of pain without it. It was like an old friend who I suspected I might need again on occasion because I hadn’t let go of the need for comparisons. By reading “The Bow” many times and lots of contemplation, the consequences of those comparisons, even trying to judge “equal to” finally became clear to me.

Now, at this stage in my life, I see that the fabric of the suit is cheap and inferior. I don’t need a suit made of fear, self-defensiveness and suspicion to protect me. I need only to stand naked before God.  Being naked in the wilderness scares me in its potential for pain. I now think that I’m strong enough to withstand my own vulnerability but am I strong enough to endure and love the vulnerability of others?  The image scares me but keeps me mindful that there’s always pain in life. I can survive it and I don’t always need to deflect it but rather try to know it.

Longing for the Light

I made it! It’s Daylight Savings Time again and it’s really a saving time for me personally. It’s so important to me that this year I set my alarm so I could watch the clock on my cell phone change from 1:59 to 3:00am. It was a beautiful moment. I know the benefits of DST are debatable and that there are a lot of people who disagree with my point of view. A couple of years ago the Christian Science Monitor did a good piece on the debate (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0313/Daylight-Saving-Time-Remind-me-again-why-we-spring-forward) For me though, it’s a saving time because of how much I long for the light.

I’ve discussed in previous posts how hard winter is for me and that the lack of light is both a physical and spiritual hardship.  As is the case most of the time, I find connections between nature and my sensibilities. I guess this time of longer light, although really an illusion, corresponds with my need to turn my face toward the stronger sunlight and my soul toward the eternal light. I’m not alone either. After all, in this Lenten season don’t Christians contemplate the meaning and message of “the light of the world”?

I use my longer days during DST to sit in front of the door to my balcony and try to be still and absorb the light down to my cellular level, to receive the benefits of its warmth and glow. It feels so good and comforting, better than any blanket in winter. I love to close my eyes and see the orange shine on the inside of my eyelids.  It’s a wonder to me just how much light can penetrate my skin. I try to absorb and yet be absorbed by the light. I find it’s easier to meditate in it because its intensity outshines me and I can lose myself in it. And I try to concentrate on how I can be a reflection of the beautiful light.

Saving and relishing daylight is more than a practice or a metaphor; it’s a representation of a life force that’s essential to the preservation of all of us. It’s a lovely reminder of the power that sustains us.  So, at this time, I’ll sit in the sun everyday that I can for as long as I can in gratitude of the light.

Stumbling On Pebbles

Today I’m stumbling.

Sometimes as I’m moving along on my journey I come to obstacles that are hard for me to overcome. You see I have anger issues.  I’m the kind of person who gets irritated at people easily and frustrated quickly, to put it mildly.  My late husband used to tell a story about going a computer store to correct a cord problem. The tech person hassled him about it so he said to him, “Listen, my wife is a very angry woman who wanted to come in here and rip you a new one. I thought I’d save you that but if you’d rather deal with her…..” He came home with a new cord. And since I’ve gotten into more than one bad situation because of my road rage, I had to buy a paper fan-like device called “Smile on a Stick” to disguise my face so I won’t get killed.  Yeah, I’m that person.

I know that I have a very deep well of anger to dip into. I also know that a lot of my anger is justified. But that’s a big club. Let’s face it, most of us have lives that are disproportionately filled with things that are sad, unfair or outright outrageous.  Some of us deal with that reality better than others. I deal with it with anger. But when I dip into that well I don’t right any wrong, nor do I achieve any goal. I just wallow in past issues and fall into a behavior of negative energy.

What I have come to realize is that the difficult events in my life are pebbles in the road. In the larger scheme of things they are small and scattered.  If I respond with anger, then I’m stumbling. And if I stumble on the pebbles, how can I expect to get to the place where I can extend love and compassion and be of service honestly with an open heart? (Please see my very 1st post on “The Bow”.)  I really want to get to that place.

So I’m getting up, brushing off, picking up my “Smile on a Stick” and moving on.

Summer Meditation

I read “The Bow” this morning (please see 1st post 12/25/10) and then went for a walk. I just got back. It was wonderful and I want to share my thoughts without my usual two-day  editing process. So here goes…

Starting out with newly downloaded music dictating my stride.”Tinariwen” singing from “Water is Life”.

It’s the kind of July morning I wait for all year. The cloudless blue sky, the sun hot on my shoulders until I wipe them with dew from heavy, ivy leaves that cling to stone walls. What’s Nicki saying? “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”

Smiling at the bunny gazing at a front yard garden contemplating “what to have, what to have….? Sharing the bunny smile with passing drivers who smile back. And sharing those smiles with dog walkers who really do look like their dogs. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”

Reaching the cemetery I feel the pain it takes to put loved ones to rest and the love that remains.  Grief is the place in our hearts where those loved ones live and it’s good to know where that is. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.” 

Geese fly low overhead and I suddenly realize, this is Yoga! I’m so grateful for this breathe. I’m grateful for all of it. I’m grateful that I continue the 20 year walk away from my demons. “I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.” 

*************

And now a note about the music mentioned in this post. I enjoy exploring “world music”. Among many other great finds, this year I was introduced to the music of the Tuareg people of the Sahara. Tinariwen is a Tuareg band. (There is a song on my “I Saw God” playlist titled “Ansari”. It’s by the group Tartit. They are also a Tuareg band.) I strongly recommend checking the music out. It’s a great genre with a very interesting history. Although I was familiar with the music, I found out about Tinariwen through the organization “Playing for Change”. Their stated mission is “Connecting The World Through Music”. Please check the website, http://playingforchange.com. You’ll be amazed at the music you’ll discover. National Geographic also has a place on their website entirely dedicated to world music. The web address is worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com. Lastly, for those of you who haven’t already figured it out, the Nicki I refer to is Nicki Minaj, rapper extraordinaire, the song , “Moment 4 Life”.  The details on both references is on my Music page.

Peace and Love.

Spring Meditation

   Ok, this is my planned “Easter piece”. (Please see previous post.) I actually wrote it a while ago and waited for this time of year to post it. I know it sounds like I wrote it standing on a soap box and I promise not to preach again if you forgive me this one time. I’ll write for this blog “in the now” from now on but I can’t let all that planning go to waste!

Get It Together*

    I probably read more into song lyrics I than I should or the writers intended. I admit that sometimes I can’t tell the difference between love songs and hymns. But this particular song overtly speaks to spirituality. If you listen to the song I think you’ll agree.

“Now’s the time for stepping out of place. Get up on your feet and give account of your faith. Pray to God or something or whatever you do.”

The British singer Seal co-wrote the song “Get It Together”. I have often wondered if he realizes that the song is divinely inspired. Ironically, it’s on the same CD as his famous song “Love’s Divine”.

   The words of this song are so powerful; that’s why I included them in my prayer. The first line, “Now’s the time…”. Wow! It puts out there the profound concept of all of us, whatever the form of our faith, addressing our collective spirituality, together. “Now’s the time for stepping out of place.” Now’s the time. If ever there was a time we needed to get over ourselves enough to step out of places in time, with our involvement in what wants to be a holy war, this is the time. For what is extremism at either end except being locked in place? “Get up on your feet and give account of your faith.” I try to imagine if I had to account for my faith. Could I do it? Notice the song doesn’t say, “give account of someone else’s faith” because that would be my first inclination. As in ‘I don’t know how so and so can give account since they have the wrong faith.’ Or ‘so and so isn’t doing right by our faith, they don’t do this and they don’t do that.’ Or how about a two-fer, which goes something like, ‘What kind of values was that child raised with?’ With that one I get to account for the child and the parent.

   Imagine if we all had to give account whatever our faith is. If we all had to step up and say ‘This is what I believe, this is why I believe it and this is how I live it.’ Do you know what would happen? Besides those who try to use the term “faith” to wrongly justify violence, what would happen is….we would be giving the same accounts. We would be expressing the same things no matter how we expressed them. Seal gets to the point in the next line. “Pray to God or something or whatever you do.” Or something. So he’s saying it’s not so important how we account but that we stand up together and account, again in our collective spirituality. He goes on to say, “What I see can make me stop and stare but who am I to judge the color of your hair.”  So when I see someone who makes me stop in my tracks and think ‘WTF?’, let me remember to give account only of my own faith.

   “We’ve got to keep this world together, got to keep it moving straight. Love like we need forever, so that people can relate.”  The only way we can keep this world together is together. And with the lyric “love like we need forever” the songwriter is beating us over the head with his point. He’s saying that together we need to love one another in a deep way, in the true way that comes after we give account of our faith. That’s the meaning of the Christian concept of Agape love, isn’t it? It’s compassionate love that comes from faith in love as a manifestation of the divine. If we can love each other like that then, once again, it doesn’t matter how we express it. We can be together and relate to one another in love. As in the song line “so that people can relate”.

   The next line is the one I adapted for my prayer. “If you’re rolling to the left, don’t forget I’m on the right.” I interpret those words to mean that no matter what position I take I have to consider the ‘other’ position with compassion and love if not agreement. Next comes the big payoff of this stanza, “Trust and forgive each other.” After I have accounted for my own faith and therefore opened my heart to the love I want and need forever then maybe I can trust and forgive. Trust and forgiveness are clearly not new ideas in faith traditions but they are two of the biggest obstacles to Agape love.  In order for me to trust and forgive I have to get over myself. I don’t mean get over my traditions but get over past ideas of group or tribal righteousness that prevent me from trusting. I must accept that the values of “the other” are as valid in God’s sight as my own, and then I can trust. And forgiveness is even harder. On more than one occasion I have convinced myself that I have been forgiving only to find myself hanging on to my own sense in my heart.  When I tell myself that I will forgive but not forget it’s just a ruse I use to disguise my lack of forgiveness. To forgive is to forget and let it go completely. The greatest and holiest of those among us throughout history have all stressed the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness through compassion is a fundamental in our traditions.

    In the next stanza the songs says, “Thinking of the troubles of today is it easier to put that gun away or is it difficult to stop and show you care.” Yeah it’s difficult! It’s a lot easier to put flag decals on my car than it is to step outside my comfort zone for the sake of others. I know that often I’ll feel the desire in my heart to show I care but then my mind gets started and I’ll think ‘If I get involved it might take to much of my time or I’ll have to take up someone else’s burden and I’ve got enough of my own. Or I might get hurt.’ But if I listen to my heart sense instead of my head sense I know that what is really important is that I show that I care.

   The next line is the most profound to me. “Everything and everyone we know is beautiful.” Amen to that! The words go on to say, “Surely you will be the guide in light to see us all. Maybe we can be the vision of a perfect man’s dream.” The words are so optimistic and hopeful. When I hear them I envision the songwriter in a kind of rapture. What do you see when you think of those words? Maybe we can discuss that goal, together. Any contemplation of collective spirituality is vital in today’s world. Now’s the time.

(Track from Seal’s CD “Seal IV”, 2003, Warner Bros. Records)

Dignity Down Low

I learned something today.

I’ve been having trouble relating to a man at work. I admit it, I’ve been kind of cold to him lately. It stems from an incident that happened at few weeks ago between me, the man and another person. The specifics aren’t important except I felt the situation was tinged with racial overtones but I didn’t say anything at the time. I just shut down. I didn’t feel he could understand my perspective. But I have been practicing so, today, when he was near by I tried to stand in my space and breathe with my heart open.

You know what happened? I suddenly remembered something I was feeling yesterday. The market I sometimes stop at on the way home from work is in a well-heeled neighborhood. As I went into the market another women came in at the same time. I immediately “typed” her. Trim, blond, wearing a “I shop and hike in this” expensive, down vest, expensive leather backpack in lieu of purse, carrying her reusable shopping bags. I think I was thinking, “Well good for you” and not in a good way. Coming out I remembered something I could get in the drugstore next door. I drove over, hopped out and there she was again. She had walked over from the market and I think I was thinking, “How correct”. But then I thought that it was a perfect opportunity for… a bow.( Once again I refer to my favorite article;  http://www.tricycle.com/dharma-talk/long-journey-bow)  I had given in to “the conceit of self”  in a big way.  So I bowed figuratively.  My judgments about her aside (greater than, less than, equal to), that woman reminded me about saving resources and I was grateful because that’s important to me.

But today I realized that there’s more to it than that. I was angry and frustrated in both situations. Since I’m African-American, I also have that added layer of what the article calls “the legacy of scraping”. That woman and my co-worker have the benefit of being part of a group that has always been at the top of the pecking order in this culture so they don’t have the same legacy. No matter what I think of their ways of being, those ways will always set the standard. And, in terms of this society, no matter what my way of being, they decide if I am “other” to the point of unworthiness. But I chose not to internalize that. As the article says,

“The path to renouncing scraping can be long and liberating, a reclaiming of dignity, and a letting go of patterns of fear. Discriminating wisdom, which we are never encouraged to renounce, clearly understands the difference between a bow and a scrape. A true bow can be a radical act of love and freedom”

I learned I choose to renounce scraping and bow in love and freedom. So, when it came to the supermarket lady, I was successful. It was hard to get over myself in the moment but I did it and I bowed.   It’s going to take me some more time with my co-worker. I’m grateful my practice led me to not just try to open my heart but to look inside it as well.

Prayer

I love you the divine One
With all my mind, heart and soul.
I pray I will see You in the faces
Of all those I meet.
I pray I will reflect Your love
To all those I meet.
I pray I will remember as I am leaning to the left
You are on my right.
I admit my sin as a turning away from You to pursue
myself
Let me be myself in You.
I pray I will always appreciate Your wonder
With awe and not superstition.
I love you, hear my cry.

Bayete, bayete, bayete
How Great Thou Art
All praise to your name.

I want to come to You headless
Voiceless so I can hear You
Thoughtless so I will not define
Myself, beside myself
And outside myself
But instead one in You
I want to come to You headless
Heart open so I can feel You
Only then can I define
Right thought
And right action
And they will be one in You.

I pray to that-which-is-not-different-from-everything
For the stillness that allows
The awareness of Your totality.
I pray for the quiet that is both
The eternal scream
And the divine whisper.
I pray for the blessing of these things
To come upon me, to swallow me
Until I am no more
And everything is.

(To give credit where credit is due, among other influences; “as I am leaning to my left…” is a loose rendering of a line from the Seal song “Let’s Get It Together”. See music page. “I love you, hear my cry” is from Psalm 116:1-2 and Donny Hathaway. See music page. I learned the word “bayete” (Oh hail) from a song by the same name sung by the Soweto Gospel Choir. See music page. Hmm..I see a pattern here.)